By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
This was high school basketball at its best. Heck, it was basketball at its best.
Two teams playing for their seasons. One team wins, one team puts away the uniforms and looks forward to spring sports. One batch of seniors playing in what will probably be their final organized game.
At stake was a berth in the regional championship game, but more importantly, a spot in the state tournament.
No wonder the Graham Middle School gymnasium was hot and loud on Friday night as the G-Men played Grayson County for a fourth time, this time in the Region C, Division 2 semifinals.
The winner plays on, the loser goes home.
The same scenario was taking place in Galax, as the Bland County boys basketball team was playing Auburn in the Region C, Division 1 semifinals, with a berth in the regional title game and state tournament berth for the winner.
While Graham is relatively young, with two sophomores and a freshman who have plenty of basketball left, Bland County has four seniors who have started since freshmen.
These guys have lived for this opportunity since then. They watched the Bland County girls nearly bring home a championship a few ago, and now it is their turn.
Bland County isn’t even a school. Bland and Rocky Gap are so small the sports teams are combined into one. What a match it has been. They had played too many games and scored too many points — three of them are 1,000-point scorers —to go down without a fight, and even down 17 points, fight they did.
Graham and Grayson County were never separated by more than seven points. Bland County trailed by 17 at the break.
Basketball is just like any sport, you are going to have good times and bad times in a game, and you just have to hope the good out-weighs the best. Both the G-Men and Bears faced adversity through it all, but they both kept fighting to the bitter end.
When it was over, Graham had won by 2 points, Bland County had won by 2 points.
Two teams, one dominated by youth, the other filled with seniors, will now participate in state tournaments next week.
I was at Graham, and what a game it was. It was the very definition of a game where neither team deserved to lose.
Both teams played hard on both sides the floor. Grayson County controlled the boards and got numerous open layups by beating Graham down the floor, but the G-Men kept refused give in.
Graham went long range, canning nine 3s, including four by Roman Workman, who was greeted by chants from the large G-Men student section of “He’s a freshman.” He doesn’t play like a freshman.
The G-Men used just six players in the game, but those six never stopped running, hustling, playing defense, crashing the boards and believing.
Of course, the Blue Devils — who had their own avid cheering section — also refused to quit. You could see the want-to in their eyes as they worked to get the ball in the basket and take a brief one-point lead in the second overtime behind the brother duo of Max and Mikey Rodgers.
These teams had played an equally intense game earlier in the season with first place at stake in the Mountain Empire District. Overtime nearly happened there too, but a foul was called against Graham with 1 second left. The Blue Devils made one free throw and won the game.
Colby Hill and Graham didn’t want that again. Hill, who is just one of several talented young players in the area, made play after play as the game continued, scoring six of seven points in the final extra period as the G-Men escaped with the win.
Hill was quick to encourage the disheartened Blue Devils as they left the floor, and was the G-Men were then mobbed by their fellow students, cheering on a hard-fought victory. It took a while for Graham head coach Glynn Carlock Jr to talk to his team as he stood back and let this players soak in a moment they will never forget.
There are times when I want to break out of my reporter mode and start cheering myself. I don’t know if I could do the job that Robert Jeter does.
He was one of the referees for the game. He is my age, but running up and down the court with players old enough to be our kids.
I have known “Jeter” as we call him since the sixth grade. We played on the same Little League championship team, played on the same basketball teams in seventh through ninth grades at Chilhowie, and he would often get in the car with me and my dad for a ride home.
He still looks like he could still play. I don’t. But, much like with Princeton’s Mike Eades, who is a regular official for ACC basketball games, how can they not just appreciate being a part of something so special.
Of course, once this 40 minutes of basketball was played, Jeter probably needed a drink and nap, and he could think about it later. I did, however, noticed Jeter’s ever-present smile visible during the numerous timeouts down the stretch.
The same scenario was going on at Galax. I wasn’t there, but thanks to Bluefield and Princeton being postponed for a day, I could send Tom Bone to cover the Bears. I have never been so happy to see school closed for no apparent reason.
In reading Tom’s article, it sounded much the same as the G-Men. They were down at times, but never out. They were inspired by a halftime speech from Asher Dillow — who will be a coach some day himself, mark my words — and the Bears kept fighting, overcame that 17-point halftime deficit and lived to play another game.
Bland County head coach Rich Hankins, whose son, Chase, is one of these seniors for the Bears, had talked openly that this is what he wanted for these guys, the opportunity to achieve and take Bland County back to the state tournament for the first time in 22 years.
Neither team had long to celebrate. Both teams returned to the court on Saturday for regional title games.
I asked Workman if the G-Men would have anything left, and he made me realize in his own way that these are teenagers, many can’t even drive yet, but their energy abounds.
No matter what the outcome was for both teams in the regional title games, Graham is one of eight teams still playing Division 2 basketball in Virginia. Bland County is one of eight still alive in Division 1.
The same goes for the Richlands girls in Division 3. The Lady Blues, whose region title game was pushed back to Monday, reached the state semifinals last season, and I guarantee they are feeling much the same as the G-Men and Bears.
The dream lives on.
—Brian Woodson is the sports editor for the Daily Telegraph. He encourages feedback at email@example.com